Tag Archives: mafia

The Irishman

15 Nov

‘The Irishman’: De Niro, Pacino, Pesci, Keitel – Scorsese saga gets the ol’ mob back together

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Al Pacino edges Robert De Niro by one with eight Oscar nominations, but De Niro has taken home two of the coveted gold bald statues to Pacino’s one. The pair are two of the greatest actors of a winding-down generation who, in “The Irishman,” the latest from mob movie maestro Martin Scorsese, get a shot at putting a crowning jewel on their storied careers. Both had parts in Frances Ford Coppola’s timeless “The Godfather: Part II” (1974), in which De Niro played the youthful version of Vito Corleone (gold statue numero uno) and Pacino played his future son, Michael – and the two were never onscreen together. Some 20 years later they shared the screen as cat and mouse in Michael Mann’s “Heat” (1995) with Pacino’s dogged cop getting the better of De Niro’s quiet criminal. Here, where the two play real-life mob enforcer Frank Sheeran (De Niro) and labor leader Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino), there’s a something of a payback. (To do full and accurate accounting, the icons took a hit for their part in the tepid 2008 cop drama “Righteous Kill.” Not that you needed to know, but.)

Much will be made of the (near) three-and-a-half-hour runtime of “The Irishman,” but it goes by in a blip as it hops around a 50-year period, with much of the focus on the Hoffa years – the early ’60s to 1975, when the labor lord went missing. The cause and culprit remain an American mystery, though Scorsese and his talented screenwriter Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) work from Charles Brandt’s book “I Heard You Paint Houses” to offer up a theory with strong conviction (Brandt’s book was based on interviews with Sheeran, who died in 2003). The implied question of the book’s title is a polite way to ask a tough guy if he does hits; a casual “yes” is how De Niro’s Frank responds in the film. Continue reading

Piranhas

7 Aug

 

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The mean streets of Naples (Italy, not the retirement destination in Florida) get their due in this gritty portrait of youth born and baptized into mob crime. It’s a vicious circle of too short life where guns and ruthlessness rule the streets. “Piranhas” will call to mind every pack of misguided youth engaging in dubious/criminal behavior film, from “The 400 Blows” (1959) to “The Florida Project” (2017) with flourishes of Scorsese thrown in. It’s not on par with those, but it tries.

The preamble, with two teen gangs bristling and chest thumping over rights to a prize Christmas tree from a mall, is one of the film’s most telling and rewarding scenes. Afterward, in a ceremonial bonfire-cum-initiation rite, we learn that these little fish with sharp teeth are from rival mafia clans. As “Piranhas” builds, it’s not as cut and dried as to who’s the enemy; motivations and codes are murky and fluid and Naples is seedier, more chaotic and far less glamorous than in the “Godfather” films. We follow the cocky, charismatic Nicola (Francesco Di Napoli), blessed with pop-star good looks and full of big plans, but addled by limited acumen. In short, he’s a loaded weapon, and it’s with a cache of automatic-caliber arms and alpha male tendencies that he begins to realize his aspirations – he’ll even dress in drag to get the job done.

The film, directed by Claudio Giovannesi (“Fiore”), who also filmed parts of the hit Italian crime television series “Gomorrah” based on Roberto Saviano’s novel – never quite fully builds out the characters beyond Nicola; they feel like castoffs from better engineered mob movies. Saviano, something of a sensation not only for his works but for the attention they garnered from the capos depicted in it, co-wrote the screenplay with Giovannesi and others from his novel “La paranza dei bambini.” To be certain, it crackles and sparks at points, but it never catches fire. Di Napoli carries it all with his angelic countenance. If only his Nicola, on a well-trodden path, only had a soul to sell.